May 17, 2023 — Fresno County Planning Commission

Documented by Anthony Corda

 Here’s what you need to know

  • The Fresno County Planning Commission approved a proposal for a new housing development in the unincorporated community of Prather. The nine-lot subdivision will be located at Thunderbird and Auberry roads. 
  • The commissioners unanimously approved a proposal for the construction, operation and decommissioning of a lithium-ion battery storage facility located on South McCall and East Jensen avenues. Commissioner Lisa Woolf requested to rescind and change her vote from a yes to a no vote post meeting. The request was denied by Chairperson Ken Abrahamian.  
  • The commissioners moved forward what could be the future Sunnyside High School Agricultural Educational Center on the southwest corner of Kings Canyon Road and South Minnewawa Avenue. Fresno Unified School District plans to acquire the land for $2 million and the commissioners found the land use to be in conformance with the General Plan. The parcels were designated as a community park and residential. 

Follow-up questions

  • Who is this housing being built for? 
  • How might the lithium-ion battery storage structure be a disaster for the community? 
  • When will the Sunnyside Agricultural Education Center be open and ready for use? 

Planning Commissioners:

  • Ken Abrahamian, Chairperson, District 1
  • Glenda Hill, Vice Chair, At large (Absent)
  • Austin Ewell, District 2 Commissioner (Absent)
  • Esther Carver, District 3 Commissioner (Absent)
  • Kuldip Chatha, District 4 Commissioner
  • John Arabian, District 5 Commissioner
  • Lisa Woolf, At large Commissioner
  • Blake Zante, At large Commissioner

Actions/Discussions/Public comment

  1. Item 1 Public Presentations
  2. Tentative Tract Map Application NO. 6382 and Classified Conditional Use Permit Applications NO. 37.26 and Initial Study NO. 8154 – Proposing to allow the construction of a nine-lot residential subdivision from a 19.63-acre parcel and a 2.09-acre parcel in Rural Residential Zone District. Parcels are located on the west side of Auberry Road Approximately 600 feet southwest of its intersection with Thunderbird Road, within unincorporated community of Prather.:  
  • Speaker: Ejaz Ahmad
  • Project site and the surrounding land are Zone RR Rural Residential and AE40 Exclusive Agriculture. Currently a grazing land surrounded by land, home sites and commercial facilities. 
  • Tract Map is consistent with GP policies (Yes)
  • Site is suitable for the type and density of the development. (Yes)
  • No adverse effect on environment or wildlife and their habitat (Yes)
  • No adverse effect on public health (Yes)
  • No conflict with easements acquired by the public at large. (Yes)
  • “Because it’s rural residential and zone that way, why is this coming before us?” Woolf asked.
  • “No because the tract has to be approved by the planning commission. So that’s why it’s coming to you. We have added the CUP application because of the access issue to the parcels.” Ahmad said. 
  • Woolf – “Because of the parcels.” 
  • Ahmad – “Yes.” 

In Support of:

  • Applicant: Lauren Smith Harbor and Associates Engineering. In favor of the project. 
  • “It’s the long driveway to get to lot seven. It looks like the fire department has approved this. I know this area so I do know there’s some threats of fire in the area. Is that enough for a bunch of fire engines to pull in if that lot burns?” Woolf asked.
  • “The width will be to the county standard,” Smith said. “And the site when the home is built will have a fire storage tank on site to assist with fire protection.” 
  • Don Fowler, Managing Partner of Family Farms spoke and gave his support for the housing project. 
  • “Shout out to county staff for helping us put this together.”
  • Opposition
  • Bobby Sanders – 
  • Woolf – “Where is the school?”
  • Sanders “Right next to Ace Hardware. Which is across the street from my property and it’s probably a 300 feet drive from my property to Auberry Road. 
  • Has his water tested and it’s mineral water with sediment. 
  • Owns 21 and 25 lots across the street. 
  • Wants to know if this will affect his groundwater. 
  • Uncertain of the new development. 
  • Lives off the land and uses a well. 
  • Unsure about updates to surrounding property. 
  • Not in support due to a school across the street. 
  • Concerns of how much water will be used. “More people, more problems.”
  • “Are there any other comments, Mr. Sanders, at this time?” Abrahamian asked. 
  • “There isn’t much I can do about it anyway right?”
  • “You can express your concerns and we’ll ask them to address that issue as far as answering questions.” Abrahamian said.   
  • Sanders explained that the area is already so hectic with school buses in the morning that you can’t even get to Auberry Road because of the constant flow of heavy traffic.  Sanders believes that building a subdivision right next door will make the traffic worse. 
  • “I’ll just deal with it as it comes.” Sanders said. 
  • Eight-year resident. 
  • Smith – Regarding Sanders’ concern about the water, Smith confirmed that the required water testing has been done for the site to prove they have the water to support the project. Confirmed that there will be two points of access that will be spread out to disperse traffic. 


  • Arabian – Yes
  • Zante – Yes 
  • Chata – Yes
  • Woolf – Yes
  • Abrahamian – Yes
  1. Unclassified Conditional Use Permit Application NO 3718 and Initial Study NO. 8116 – Proposing to allow the construction, operation and ultimate decommissioning of a battery storage system consisting of lithium-ion based battery modules housed in purpose-built metal enclosures with integrated power conversion equipment, fire suppression system, transformer and 115kV transmission poles for the overhead wires crossing McCall Ave for interconnection to nearby PG&E Sanger Substation. Located on 11.3-Acre Portion of a 37.56-acre parcel in the AE-20 (Exclusive Agriculture; 20-acre minimum parcel size) Located on the northeast corner of S. McCall and E. Jensen Avenues Approximately 1.26 miles west of the nearest city limits of the City of Sanger. (10018 E. Jensen Ave): 
  • Ejaz Ahmad Department of Public Works and Planning- The proposed factory energy storage facility will provide storage capacity of 200 megawatts. 
  • The facility will operate for an estimated 20 years. 
  • Facility operation will include charging from the grid during the day and discharge during peak electric demands at night. 
  • Monitored remotely.
  • Maintained quarterly by service personnel. 
  • Proposed facility will occupy space at McCall and Jensen Avenue.
  • PG&E Central service station is across the street.
  • Project site and surrounding land are zoned AE20 Exclusive Agriculture. 
  • Project site and surrounding land are exclusively agricultural, surrounding usage includes commercial, residential usage.
  • Access gained from McCall Avenue. 
  • 5 Conditions of zoning ordinance:
  • 1. Size and shape adequate.
  • 2. Streets and highways are adequate for use.
  • 3. No adverse effects on the neighborhood.
  • 4. General plan consistency.
  • 5. Conditions necessary for public health, safety, and general welfare. 
  • Abrahamian – “The total cost will be about five million dollars, is that correct?”
  • “Five million is the cost of removal
  • Abrahamian – “Are there any such facilities in the valley or the county?”
  • Ahmad – “I don’t know for a fact. There might be some other ones.” 
  • Abrahamian inquired about issues or concerns with Fresno Fire. 
  • Ahmad is unsure.
  • Max Christian 
  • New Leaf Energy – National Leader in storage energy storage. 450 projects across various markets in the US. Former company had a four decade long run in the country. 
  • Apache Project is being developed to add capacity to the Caiso Grid. 
  • California grid operator, Caiso has projected hundreds if not thousands of similar projects in the coming decade. 
  • Apache will provide additional resiliency to the local grid. 
  • By adding this to the grid, it makes the community less susceptible to rolling black outs.
  • Community Benefits 
  • 50 full-time jobs during the construction phase. 
  • Five full-time jobs during operation.
  • Project will generate tax revenue for the county. 
  • Woolf: “Are you a subcontractor for PG&E or do you work with PG&E? I think it was David Randall mentioned something like, you’re your own commercial entity. So, it makes me think you’re making money by then saying “Hey we now have this storage PG&E do you want to use it if there’s a problem? How does it work exactly?”
  • Christian: “It’s a little convoluted but we are developers, a stand-alone building company, secure land, put these types of projects through the engineering and through the connection study process that Caiso manages. That can take two to three years or longer for that study to get done. That’s an engineering study to determine if a project of this size and type can connect to the grid at this point. Once we have secured the site control introduction agreement with PG&E, Caiso will manage the process and then commission the permit to move forward with the construction project. The project is procured by either PG&E…another being the community choice aggregators. They’re under a state mandate to secure capacity… PG&E or another aggregator can procure the power from the battery. 
  • New Leaf wants to partner with long-term asset owners. 
  • Woolf – “You don’t have a contract with PG&E yet, they might say “no thanks” then you’re out there on your own.” 
  • Christian – “It’s possible. It’s unlikely given the current procurement framework. So currently there is a demand for capacity resources. We see that demand and we anticipate that the battery will be procured there are annual regular cycles of procurement, so this is our one shot to our annual cycle for procurement.” Being that there is so much demand, it is possible that the battery power may be distributed to different companies. 
  • Woolf “It sounds like PG&E probably has these battery storage systems in every substation already. I would think they have something like this as their own personal back up in case you charge too much?” 
  • Christian: A number of these systems are already online with 3,000 megawatts operational.
  • Next 7 years – projected 10,000 megawatts online. 
  • Abrahamian’s concern is fires and the fire suppression system. Inquired about fires in the past.
  • In California you can point to a number of systems that are smaller in size but attached to a solar project so the solar charges it on site directly and then puts it on the grid. 
  • Standalone storage system attached directly to the substation.
  • “We have two to three million cars, electric cars that use the same ion battery.” Christian said. 
  • “We hear about those catching fire too. I heard there was an explosion in Arizona a few years ago.” Abrahamian said.  
  • Christian: “I can touch on each of those. My point I’m stating is that they’re ubiquitous now but they’re going to be moreso because it’s a new technology we don’t have the 20 or 30 year track record of great assets where we can say ‘well here’s the long term track record’ and because it is new and because there have been incidents it is worth noting that it is a valid thing to call out. Our knowledge comes from the mobile application meaning on cars, there are many incidents we’ve heard about. On stationary application it’s different, it looks like a forty foot shipping container but it’s purpose built, insulated, and has the integrated fire protection system as well.” Christian said 
  • He continued saying that there is an Arizona incident, which is more well-known. He said two issues were found in the analysis done after: First, that system was an early generation system that didn’t have desecration valves that help with the build up of gasses. The second issue was when the fire department showed up, their protocol at the time was to wait for two hours, see if there was any evidence and then access it. It turns out that for two hours, the gasses built up, when they opened it, it set off. It was the opposite of what should have been done. There are now better standards according to responses.
  • The mechanisms now have the necessary valves to prevent gas from building up and there are now also internal integrated fire protection systems. If there’s a thermal-issues, it is monitored on a second by second basis. 
  • Woolf said, “The ultimate decommissioning in 20 years, is there an insurance bond set aside to make sure this happens especially if this company has sold their company down the road three times over and it ends up with some Japanese owner who doesn’t care.”
  • “This could be a nightmare for the county,” Wolfe said. “I feel like it’s hard enough to get rid of batteries, let alone lithium batteries. If this is abandoned it could be a disaster for the county.”
  • Zante asked, “Just had a quick question maybe to Commissioner Woolf’s part about the decommissioning process. In theory, 20 years is a long time but it’s also, in a strange way, not a long time in the scheme of planning and project construction. So in 20 years, assuming that there will be an increase in demand on the grid, this project is decommissioned. What happens when they all start decommissioning in a rapid succession in 20 to 30 years? Will it put my stress on the grid in Fresno County?”
  • Christian said, “I think the expectation that with certain parts of the grid, this grid asset or this ability to store energy is probably going to be seen as a longer term so what will likely happen is technology will improve and the need for that project in that area will increase the need for that project for the longer term. Anticipated an operation life term for what the current contacts are structured at. In the future, you could probably have a smaller footprint as tech gets more efficient and increase the amount of storage and maybe that project extends its life at that particular point in the grid. To Commissioner Woolf’s point about the decommissioning, this is something we do come across as part of the contract for power purchase. We have to maintain a certain capacity and that’s a rule by the Caiso. That means you can’t have a battery on its last legs getting the same amount of revenue for its capacity value. So we have to maintain a 98% capacity factor while we’re under contract and what that means is at the end of our off date term, we will have batteries that are within five to ten percent of their life.  You can repurpose these batteries because they have to maintain their capacity per the contract.”
  • Motion carries- 5/0
  1. General Plan Conformity – FSU Proposed Sunnyside High School Agricultural Education Center – Proposing to determine General Plan Conformity of Fresno Unified School District’s proposal to acquire property comprised of three parcels totaling approximately 17.75 acres for the construction of an educational AG Center for Sunnyside High School. Located at the southwest corner of the intersection of Kings Canyon Road and S. Minnewawa Avenue and southerly adjacent, on the west side of S. Minnewawa Avenue between E. Montecito Avenue and E. Lane Avenue, approximately 0.75 miles southeast of the nearest city limits of the City of Fresno, and easterly adjacent to the nearest city limits and within the Sphere of Influence of the City of Fresno: 
  • Applicant – Jeremy Ward – Assistant Superintendent For College and Career Readiness with Fresno Unified School District. 
  • “Excited to be able to bring the acquisition of this property for educational purposes in front of you today.”
  • “We recognize that it is not significant that for the longest time, the Fresno Unified School District which represents the largest school district within the county of Fresno, third largest in the state of California, does not have a significant agricultural education program that sits within the most robust agricultural county in the United States of America. We’re excited to bring the proposal forward to be able to not only acquire the property but utilize the property to begin to really develop a plant and animal science opportunities for students to learn of all ages here within our city. Learn about career opportunities, learn about what exists within our county and how important these agricultural opportunities are that exist here.”
  • “In a way that is adjacent to a high school, that’s a significant component too because Fresno Unified is for the most part a land-locked district. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to be able to acquire properties that are immediately adjacent or next to high schools because we are fully developed for the most part around all of our facilities. That’s why this particular property is particularly exciting for us to develop that opportunity. Furthermore, we do have a couple high schools that I would say represent elements of agricultural education programs, Sunnyside High School is one of them. They actually have ag education teachers that are working in the arena of ag education. Actually had hundreds of students that showed and represented at the last county fair and won a number of awards.” The idea is to make it so the community would have access to the property as well. 
  • Woolfe asked, “Are they donating the land? It must be reasonable because this is a prime piece of land in the middle of residential areas.”
  • They’re purchasing the land. Each parcel is $1 million, both parcels for $2 million dollars.
  • First piece of property purchased on Kings Canyon Avenue. 
  • Second property owner was willing to sell the property to them for educational purposes. Formerly horses on the property. 
  • Alex Daundry – Chief Executive of Operations for Fresno Unified School District. Supports ed department and represents the overall team. 
  • Acknowledged support from the county and was appreciative.

All in favor. 5/0 

  2. Unclassified Conditional Use Permit Application No. 3754 and Initial Study No. 8340 proposing to allow an unmanned telecommunications facility consisting of a 105 foot-tall monopine wireless communication tower with related facilities on a 50 foot x 50 foot fenced site leased area of a 5-acre parcel in the Rural Residential Zone District. West of Sunnyslope Rd. between E. Trimmer Springs Rd. and Sunnyslope Rd. within the unincorporated community of Trimmer (Pine Flat): 
  • Applicant: Nick Tagus – 51 Wireless on behalf of Telespan.
  • Monopole style. Sheathed to blend in. 
  • No existing cell towers in the area.
  • Cell site will be Co-locatable. Space for three carriers. 
  • Offers much needed service to the community.
  • Before and after shots shown.
  • Five Findings were found and met by staff. 
  • Roads are adequate for use.
  • Two maintenance trips per month.
  • Support wireless communicator services.
  • Necessary for public health, safety and general welfare.
  • Agree with staff findings.
  • Woolfe – Do you have contracts with cell services?
  • Tagus: Only T-Mobile. Once the tower is constructed, competing engineers see their competitors have service in an area. Enough room for three carriers to put all of their equipment there. Folks recreating at the lake will benefit.


-Arabian Approves per staff recommendation. Secondede by Chata. 

-No discussion

-No opposition. 

-All in favor. 5/0 

“I don’t know how this works but it’s been eating at me that I voted yes for one of the things. It won’t make a difference if I change my vote to no it’ll still pass but it’s driving me crazy today. Am I allowed for the record to put “no” on the docket even though it won’t change the vote?” Woolf asked. 

Abrahamian –“We will not open an item sans. We will move forward. Thank you.” 

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